KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 16 – Lawmakers and an independent committee that probed the deadly 2016 fire at Sultanah Aminah Johor Bahru Hospital (HSA) have urged Khairy Jamaluddin to table the inquiry’s findings at the upcoming Parliament meeting.
Their call to the health minister — who proclaimed upon taking office that the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) working culture would shift towards greater transparency — was made after the High Court in the Johor capital of Johor Baru yesterday struck out three negligence lawsuits over the fatal blaze at the MOH hospital, on grounds that they were not filed within the three-year statute of limitations.
Litigation by the families of three patients who died in the October 25, 2016 fire at HSA — Logeswaran Krishnasamy, Choo Lin Fong, and Kaliama Muniandy — was only initiated in September 2020.
Among the six patients in total who were killed in the blaze at the public hospital, the family of one victim — Neeramaladevi Chandran — settled their lawsuit with the government for RM136,000 after filing suit within exactly three years from the incident, while the next-of-kin of the remaining two victims, Yusuf Hasan and Toh Ah Wah, did not litigate.
“KJ should table the inquiry’s report in the upcoming Parliament session,” Johor Baru MP Akmal Nasir told CodeBlue, referring to Khairy’s popular moniker.
“The court case excuse can’t be used anymore. The government should be fair and open and should not continue to avoid tabling the report. The families of the victims and the people have a right to know the inquiry’s report.”
Former Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad, who received the independent investigation’s report in June 2018 under the Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration then, said the onus was now on Khairy to present the committee’s findings to the Cabinet and to subsequently table the report of the inquiry in the upcoming Dewan Rakyat meeting that starts on February 28.
“Now that the court cases have been struck off, there’s no sub judice,” Dzulkefly told CodeBlue. “The minister should table this report in Parliament to clear it once and for all.”
Former Deputy Health Minister Dr Lee Boon Chye said making the HSA fire inquiry’s report public was “long overdue”, saying: “There are issues from the report which will be important for MOH to act on to prevent recurrence.”
Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii, who chairs the Dewan Rakyat special select committee on health, science and innovation, also urged Khairy to table the independent inquiry’s report in Parliament.
“With the latest dismissal of the cases in court, there are no more excuses for them to withhold such a report, especially as it involves public interest as well as future preparedness for fires at health care facilities throughout the country,” Dr Yii told CodeBlue.
Independent committee chairman Mohd Hishamudin Yunus and deputy chairman Dr Abu Bakar Suleiman similarly told Khairy to make the report public, in line with the recommendation from their committee that conducted a closed-door inquiry into the 2016 fire tragedy after it was appointed by the-then Barisan Nasional (BN) government.
“Surely the poor victims of the fire and their families should be allowed to have closure from this disaster! I hope this will not be further delayed,” Dr Abu Bakar, who is also a former Health director-general, told CodeBlue.
Mohd Hishamudin, who is a former Court of Appeal judge, said Khairy should make the independent committee’s report public and to table it in the upcoming Parliament meeting, as promised by the minister last October.
“Such a move would be in line with the recommendation of the Independent Committee that the government make public the Committee’s Report, as well as in compliance with the direction issued by Cabinet on 2 October 2019 for the Report to be made public,” Mohd Hishamudin told CodeBlue.
According to a parliamentary reply by Khairy’s predecessor, Dr Adham Baba, MOH declassified the independent committee’s report from the Official Secrets Act (OSA) on October 15, 2019, after the Cabinet under the-then PH administration decided on October 2, 2019, that MOH was to publish the findings of the independent inquiry.
Former Malaysian Medical Association president Dr Milton Lum — who previously told CodeBlue’s On-Call podcast that he saw many fire safety problems when he visited HSA back in 2010, such as locked fire exits — repeated his calls for MOH to publish the independent inquiry’s report so that hospital administrators across the public and private sectors can learn from it.
“The basic question is — what are you trying to hide?” Dr Lum said yesterday. “MOH talks about open culture. What open culture is this?”
Muda co-founder Lim Wei Jiet, who is a lawyer, said sub judice should not be used as an excuse to prevent the publication of reports by an independent inquiry established by the government.
He pointed out that a court decision ultimately lies with the judge based on evidence produced before trial, who can arrive at a different conclusion from those reports.
“In any event, the public interest in publishing such independent inquiry findings far outweighs any potential prejudice it may have in court proceedings. Otherwise, as has happened here, sub judice can be so easily used as an excuse by those in power to avoid public scrutiny and accountability.”
The independent investigation, sighted by CodeBlue that published four articles in March 2020 on its report, concluded that one of the underlying causes that led to the deaths of the six patients in the HSA fire was the lack of preparedness by hospital management and staff.